The future economy lies in information. Email, webpages, Instant Messenger conversations are all very personal to the consumer and therefore eventually of great value. If, through unforseen circumstances like a fire or harddrive failure, this information is lost it will be a tragic event for the individual, akin to losing all of their photo albums in a flood. As more and more people connect to the internet this problem will occur for more and more people. In order to prevent this tragedy we should offer secure, safe and dependable information storage.
There are many advantages to owning a small corner of the internet by paying for a hosting service. You can set up a personal webpage, host any file and access your email wherever you go. Your own personal computer becomes less important as your ability to access all your personal files follows you through your days. Many people may think ‘well I spend most of my time in front of my computer’, but it’s the times when you need it most that you’re often away. The security in knowning that wherever you go, your personal data goes with you will become an ever increasing utility that I believe people will pay for, provided that they’re guaranteed security and a measure of performance. Noone will pay for a service that is slow and buggy.
There is one problem with bringing this kind of service into the present economy. At this moment there is not much practical application for owning server space. Most of the people who pay a hosting service for personal reasons are bloggers. Blogging is a huge growth market as more and more people go online and find their voice. This is the first killer app of the hosting industry. People are willing to pay for hosting because they get higher quality service and the reliability of a professional information bank. Blogging however will not bring everybody into the information economy, that’s why more applications need to be developed in order to take advantage of the benefits that internet hosting provides. This is the key: providing useful software for the consumers of the hosting software. If one wants to push hosting, one needs to provide the carrot. If the carrot is free then that sweetens the deal for the consumer.
Not only is there plenty of new ideas that can grow from prolific personal hosting, there’s also many olds ideas which increase in quality. Email becomes central, no matter where you go your email goes with you. Photo galleries are viewable by anyone at anytime. Your contacts are there when you need them, your personal reminders remind you when they’re supposed to, not two hours too late. These are just some examples of what you can do with current technologies. Imagine what you can do with future ones.
Ideas. If the internet is the marketplace then ideas are the product. What then is the currency? Patents I suppose. Many of you are aware of the problems we have with the current patent system, but most people think that the only way to solve the problem is to change the system. The problem lies in the fact that once a system get’s rolling it becomes very difficult to change it. It’s not as if we can change all of the patent laws to suit the needs of the wired generation. The foundation of our world is built on bricks like this. Perhaps what we instead need to do is come up with a new system that’s specific to software but also a superset of current intellectual properly laws. Make no mistake, this is something we have to address before our capitalistic society can grow in new directions.
It would be nice to see a convergence of open source programmers with some sort of limited software patent. I wish that dedicated hackers who spent all their free time programming for altruistic purposes could in some way program open source software for a living. Rent and food are harsh pins for that particular bubble. I’m not sure of what the best way to go about it is but I do know that the future of quality software development depends on it. Look at the battle between Linux and Windows. Windows has had billions of dollars thrown at it and Linux has been developed for free. In terms of security and reliability in the server market there is no question that Linux is superior. If we’re looking at ease of use and availability of quality software then Windows is the clear winner. Nonetheless the Linux platform is the better platform for future growth as it’s more stable, less buggy and more efficient in terms of computer performance. Yet every line of code has been given for free for the sole purpose of building a better operating system.
That’s why the open source movement and the geeks behind it are the heroes that we’ll look back on with great admiration. They were willing to put it on the line and contribute to the greater good not for money but for altruistic purposes and praise from their peers. That’s admirable in my books.
Programmers, hosters, content providers; these are all the people who are at the forefront of the information revolution. It’s a slow process but it’s also a methodical and inexorable one. I’m a firm believer in six degrees of seperation but it’s only an effective tool for social change if people communicate with each other. Ideas and memes are the digital virii of the 21sth century but sometimes, just sometimes, a virus can be a Good Thing.